By: Amy Murray

For my sister, Gretchen.

Chapter One

I hated the way I flinched when I saw her. My lips turned down, and my gaze shifted sideways. I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be understanding and kind. But seeing her like this—well, it was something I didn’t think I’d ever get used to.

My mother wasn’t the woman I remembered from my childhood. Her blonde hair, now streaked with silver, was a mass of unkempt knots around her shoulders, and her lips—pale and thin—hung open. Saliva pooled between her bottom lip and teeth, and when her head fell forward, it ran down her chin and dropped to her lap.

“Oh, Momma.” I rounded my parents’ kitchen table to her side. Lifting her head with gentle fingers, I wiped the mess and took the seat to her right. “I brought your favorite. It’s lemon cake.” I cut a piece and lifted it to her mouth.

She swatted at the fork with a lazy hand. Daddy had said she was having a good day. That must’ve ended at some point prior to my arrival because these kinds of days were the worst. I set down my fork and sighed, not knowing what to do or say.

“I graduate in May. Can you believe it?” I placed my hand on top of hers and, because she always seemed so lifeless, was surprised at her warmth. “Feels like I just started college last year, and now it’s about to end. Time flies, doesn’t it?”

Her head lifted, and she turned to face me. The movement was slow and stiff, unpracticed and awkward.

“Abigail.” My mother breathed my name as if she’d just realized I was sitting next to her. Her gaze darted over my face, and her wispy, white brows lifted a fraction of an inch. “Time doesn’t exist, baby.” Something in her eyes sparked to life, wild and frantic. “It’s continuous. Just when you think it’s over, it begins again. Always repeating.” She nodded violently to help me understand. “They’re keeping that from you. They aren’t telling you the truth.”

Her hands shot out, and she gripped my upper arms with a strength at odds with her frail frame. Her nails dug into my skin, but I didn’t move. I didn’t react. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, my mother often lived in a world outside my own, with grand fantasies of a life I didn’t see or understand. When she wasn’t whispering frantically to me about people that didn’t exist, she was comatose, lying on the couch in a drug induced haze, sometimes drooling and yelling out in her sleep.

I studied her pale blue eyes, eyes that looked astonishingly like my own, and tried to see the woman I called Mom. She wasn’t there. I didn’t know this person. I’d tried so hard to keep myself separate from her, distant even. Anything to keep my heart intact. But no amount of hardening could seal off hope. Hope that one day she’d wake up and be the mother I so desperately desired.

I blinked back a sudden burst of stinging tears. I didn’t want her to see them. From past experience, I knew any emotion from me only incited her special brand of dementia. But she saw them nonetheless. A sigh fell from her mouth, and her blue eyes softened. She recognized me. Really recognized me, not just the idea of me. Releasing her grip on my arms, her lips tightened, and her eyes crumpled at the edges.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t want to be like this.” She hiccupped and pressed a shaking hand to her lips.

“Mom?” A flurry of hope circled inside my chest. I reached out to touch her shoulder, but she stood and moved out of my reach.

“I didn’t want this life,” she said. The air crackled with tension, and her chin trembled. “Don’t ever let them tell you you’re crazy. I want you to listen to me. Listen carefully.” Her eyes were wide and rimmed in red. “When time bends, and you’re everywhere at once, you’ll understand where I am and where I’ve gone. I hope. I hope—I hope. I hope…”

She walked away repeating those words, her voice soft and sad. The tears I’d held back surged forward. She was gone as fast as she’d come, trapped inside an illness that refused to let her go.

That was the last time we spoke. Later that evening, she stole the keys to my father’s car and ran it into a concrete pylon at a speed of over ninety miles per hour. I wasn’t prepared to lose her, and to this day I replay our last conversation, worrying her suicide was a result of something I’d said, or something I’d done.